The 2021 Fantastic Tech Awards

In the tech market, 2021 was a calendar year of revenue and pivots.

Many thanks in portion to the pandemic and the digitization of our lives, all of the significant tech organizations acquired even bigger. Fb modified its title to Meta, Jeff Bezos went to room, Jack Dorsey still left Twitter and Silicon Valley fell harder for crypto.

Every single December, partly to cheer myself up soon after a 12 months of covering tech’s scandals and shortfalls, I use this column to lift up a handful of tech projects that enhanced the planet for the duration of the year. My conditions are considerably free and arbitrary, but I look for the sorts of deserving, altruistic jobs that utilize technology to huge, societal challenges, and that do not get a great deal consideration from the tech press, like begin-ups that are applying synthetic intelligence to fight wildfires, or foods-supply courses for the needy.

Particularly at a time when lots of of tech’s leaders appear far more intrigued in developing new, virtual worlds than improving the globe we reside in, it’s worth praising the technologists who are stepping up to solve some of our largest troubles.

So below, without the need of even further ado, are this year’s Good Tech Awards.

One of the year’s most interesting A.I. breakthroughs came in July when DeepMind — a Google-owned synthetic intelligence organization — posted details and open up-resource code from its groundbreaking AlphaFold venture.

The undertaking, which made use of A.I. to forecast the structures of proteins, solved a difficulty that had vexed scientists for decades, and was hailed by experts as a person of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. And by publishing its facts freely, AlphaFold set off a frenzy amongst researchers, some of whom are already working with it to produce new drugs and better recognize the proteins associated in viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

Google’s general A.I. endeavours have been fraught with controversy and missteps, but AlphaFold looks like an unequivocally excellent use of the company’s extensive experience and assets.

Men and women like ingesting meat. But the industrial-farm system that produces the huge the vast majority of the world’s meat provide is an moral and environmental catastrophe, and plant-primarily based substitutes have not caught on greatly with carnivores. That’s why the importance of cultured meat — which is grown from cells in a lab, rather than taken from slaughtered animals, and which could possibly be tech’s remedy to our world-wide meat dependancy.

Despite extra than a ten years of exploration and advancement, cultured meat is even now much too high priced and challenging to generate. But that may well be switching quickly, many thanks to the endeavours of dozens of start off-ups which includes Upside Foodstuff, Mosa Meat and Wildtype.

Upside Food items, formerly recognized as Memphis Meats, opened a 53,000-square-foot plant in California this year, and declared it experienced figured out a way to mature cells into meat with out employing animal elements.

Mosa Meat, a Dutch cultivated-meat get started-up, declared important breakthroughs in its technological know-how, much too, together with a technique of growing animal extra fat that is 98 p.c more cost-effective than the earlier strategy.

And Wildtype, a San Francisco start-up that is generating lab-grown seafood, launched a new, cell-centered salmon products this year that is acquiring good testimonials in early assessments, even though the Food and Drug Administration has not still accepted it.

Prisons are not recognized as hotbeds of innovation. But two tech projects this year tried out to make our felony justice method additional humane.

Recidiviz is a nonprofit tech get started-up that builds open up-supply facts instruments for felony justice reform. It was begun by Clementine Jacoby, a former Google worker who observed an prospect to corral data about the prison procedure and make it readily available to prison officers, lawmakers, activists and scientists to tell their conclusions. Its tools are in use in seven states, including North Dakota, where by the facts tools helped jail officials evaluate the possibility of Covid-19 outbreaks and identify incarcerated people who were qualified for early release.

Ameelio, a nonprofit start off-up started by two Yale learners and backed by tech honchos like Jack Dorsey and Eric Schmidt, is making an attempt to disrupt jail communications, a notoriously exploitative industry that prices inmates and their loved types exorbitant service fees for phone and video calls. This 12 months, it produced a totally free video calling support, which is getting analyzed in prisons in Iowa and Colorado, with programs to insert a lot more states up coming yr.

When I very first read about experimental efforts to 3-D print residences a number of yrs ago, I dismissed them as a novelty. But 3-D printing technological innovation has enhanced steadily due to the fact then, and is now getting applied to create actual houses in the United States and abroad.

3-D printing residences has various advantages: It’s drastically less costly and quicker than regular development (properties can be 3-D printed in as small as 24 several hours), and they can be created utilizing neighborhood supplies in elements of the planet wherever concrete is challenging to arrive by.

ICON, a building technological know-how business based in Texas, has 3-D printed far more than two dozen structures so much. Its technological innovation was applied to print houses in a village in Mexico this 12 months, and the corporation plans to split floor next year on a enhancement in Austin, Texas, that will consist solely of 3-D printed residences.

Mighty Buildings, dependent in Oakland, Calif., is getting a a little distinct strategy. It sells prefab home kits consisting of 3-D printed panels that are built in a manufacturing facility and assembled on internet site. Its households are driven by photo voltaic panels and loaded with strength-economical functions, and it a short while ago struck a offer to 3-D print 15 houses in a subdivision in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Our national housing disaster, it must be reported, is not generally a tech issue. Lousy zoning and tax legal guidelines, NIMBY protectionism and other aspects have performed a component in building housing unaffordable for numerous. But it is comforting to know that if and when regional and point out governments get their acts collectively and start off creating more housing, 3-D printing could assist speed up the course of action.

Couple of tech tales manufactured as large an influence this year as the revelations from Frances Haugen, the Fb merchandise supervisor turned whistle-blower who was the most important source for The Wall Road Journal’s blockbuster “Facebook Files” collection. By earning public thousands of paperwork detailing inside Fb investigate and conversations about the platform’s harms, Ms. Haugen state-of-the-art our collective know-how about Facebook’s inner workings, and her congressional testimony was a landmark second for tech accountability.

Shortly following Ms. Haugen went public, two former members of Facebook’s integrity staff, Jeff Allen and Sahar Massachi, began the Integrity Institute, a nonprofit that is intended to enable social media providers navigate thorny troubles all around have confidence in, safety and platform governance. Their announcement acquired fewer focus than Ms. Haugen’s document dump, but it’s all component of the same worthy energy to teach lawmakers, technologists and the community about producing our social media ecosystem healthier.

Ms. Scott, who bought divorced from Jeff Bezos in 2019, did not introduce new know-how or a begin-up in 2021. But she is offering absent her Amazon fortune — approximated to be really worth much more than $50 billion — at a speed that would make other tech philanthropists glance like penny pinchers.

She donated more than $6 billion in 2021 alone to a host of charities, universities and social applications, an astonishing feat for an unique operating with a compact staff of advisers. (For scale, the full Gates Basis gave out $5.8 billion in direct grants in 2020.)

And contrary to other donors, who splash their names on properties and museum wings, Ms. Scott announced her presents quietly in a collection of understated web site posts. Let’s hope that in 2022, far more tech moguls abide by her guide.